Matthew E White @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 26.04.13

US soul/Americana/rhythm and blues alchemist continues his ascent

Apr 26th, 2013 at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London / By Adam Bunn
Matthew E. White Matthew E White seems a happy man. He spends a large part of tonight's gig beaming, repeatedly thanking the crowd in the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall for their attendance, in between a bunch of (genuinely) amusing anecdotes from the band's European tour, of which tonight's show marks the final date. He has every reason to be chuffed: the album he is touring (2012's mellow, soul music-indebted Big Inner, which was quietly released in the UK back in January) is a slow-burning, word of mouth success; one that gives every impression of a star in the ascendancy.

On record, Big Inner is a warm, shuffling, Sunday morning-esque album, drawing heavily on classic soul artists such as Donny Hathaway, and mixing it with a low-slung southern-Americana vibe. For the most part, it’s restrained and hushed. With the help of a full supporting band, plus an impressive horn section, the album becomes an entirely different animal in a live setting. Indeed many of the songs are completely reinterpreted: 'Big Love' gets an extensive rework into a psychedelic, cosmic workout, whilst 'Gone Away's’ somewhat morbid lyrical matter ('Your body's cold, Your body's so cold, but your sins and your sorrows are all done away') almost gets lost its euphoric transformation.

The gig itself is a short-but-sweet affair, clocking in at an hour, which is ample time for each of Big Inner's tracks to be given a thorough working out, as well as a couple of new tracks to be confidently introduced mid-set. In a nice touch, White had a programme produced for the audience to accompany tonight's show. 'Every note that you hear tonight will be gone as soon as you hear it' he muses in it; 'The finite quality that permeates everything that will happen tonight is why live music has a magnetism and a vibrancy that is wholly separate from its recorded cousin.' Grand statements they may be, but tonight’s show is so perfectly honed, it’s difficult not to feel glad to have experienced the moment.